The Changing Geopolitics of Nuclear Energy: A Look at the United States, Russia, and China

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The nuclear industry of advanced industrialized countries is under significant pressure to remain competitive as the market landscape for new nuclear power opportunities changes. The relative decline of U.S. nuclear export competitiveness comes at a time when Russia is boosting its dominance in new nuclear sales, and China is doubling down on its effort to become a leader in global nuclear commerce. This report illuminates how the changing market competition among the United States, Russia, and China will affect their future relations with nuclear commerce recipient countries, and discusses why Russia and China promote nuclear commerce, as well as which factors may alter their market competitiveness. The report further provides recommendations regarding the U.S. approach to continued commercial competitiveness in nuclear energy.

The key findings include:

  • Nuclear power generation projects have never been a purely commercial endeavor in the United States, and civilian nuclear export is difficult to be viable as a purely commercial undertaking.

  • Global nuclear market dominance by state-led capitalist economies with limited accountability and governance capacities would endanger the future of global nuclear safety and nonproliferation.

  • The U.S. retreat could bifurcate the use of nuclear power generation along with similar political or economic systems.

  • Nuclear commerce is geopolitical in nature and creates multi-decadal ties between supplier and recipient countries, but nuclear commerce may not be an effective tool of foreign policy leverage. 


This report was made possible by the generous support of the Japan External Trade Organization and ClearPath Foundation.


Jane Nakano
Senior Fellow, Energy Security and Climate Change Program